Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished and very competent colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île.
I would like to thank my constituents from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for giving me their trust for the fourth time with the largest majority I have received since 1993. I can assure them once again that they will not be disappointed in their choice. I will work hard to defend their interests.
Some things in the Speech from the Throne are surprising. My colleagues will have the opportunity to talk about other matters that are missing from or poorly presented in this speech. I will focus on two aspects. The first concerns the whole issue of financial pressures, commonly referred to as the fiscal imbalance on this side of the House. The second concerns the agricultural sector, which is also one of the major areas that was forgotten in the Speech from the Throne and one of the major sectors that has been neglected by the government for many years.
A first ministers' conference will be held shortly to address equalization and all federal transfers. It is quite surprising that just a few weeks before this conference there is no mention in the Speech from the Throne of this important issue, except for one line. It says that the federal government will present the most significant, most magnificent reform of the equalization program in 45 years.
My first point is this: equalization is one thing, but there is also the conference of October 26. I trust the Prime Minister is far better prepared than for the last first ministers' conference on health care. That time he was absolutely at a loss. He gave the impression of being totally disconcerted, with no idea of what he was talking about. I hope this time he will be well prepared.
During the election campaign he made a commitment—one he repeated two weeks ago—to open the first ministers' conference with two major subjects: equalization payments and the other fiscal transfers which are causing tax pressure on the provincial and Quebec governments. This is in large part due to the skyrocketing costs of health care and the growing needs in the area of education and social assistance.
Equalization is important, but if it is done according to the formula presented to us two weeks ago, nothing will be accomplished and it will be a mere travesty of the objectives and mission of an equalization program.
Two weeks ago, on the very first day of the premiers conference, the federal government presented an equalization payment amending formula: take the 2000-01 payments and index them. When the formula is not corrected from beginning to end, we end up with a situation where, for example, the Government of Quebec would end up over the next 10 years not get half of what it would normally would have obtained in equalization payments had the formula had been reshaped using correct and stringent parameters. There has been talk of reshaping the equalization payment system for 10 years now.
Two constants with two parameters keep coming up and there is provincial consensus on these. The first: provincial representation must be changed. Calculations to determine the per capita payment must be based on the ten provinces, not five. The other parameter is property tax. This has been volatile in recent years and as a result, for example, Quebec suddenly lost $2 billion in equalization payments.
Real property tax values must be used as the basis for the calculation. There is nothing complicated about that. Change two parameters and we have a lasting solution to the problem.
Second, the Prime Minister must fulfill his two commitments—the one he made during the election campaign and the one at the last conference—and deal with the fiscal pressures. I find it hard to understand why the Prime Minister and the members of his government are upset when we propose an amendment dealing with fiscal pressures and fiscal imbalance. The Prime Minister himself admitted, during the election campaign and two weeks ago, that the Quebec government and the provincial governments were under undue fiscal pressure and he said that he was prepared to work on this issue.
But the throne speech makes no mention of these fiscal pressures. The first ministers' conference is in three weeks. Are we justified in questioning the government's agenda? After all, this is what the throne speech is about: it presents the government's agenda.
If the Prime Minister is not able to anticipate that, under his agenda, he will have to meet the provincial premiers in three weeks to discuss fiscal pressures, then there is a problem. Something was overlooked. I do not know whether this is deliberate or if the Prime Minister is in the process of changing his mind.
There is only one way to deal with the fiscal imbalance in a thorough fashion. The tax fields of the federal, Quebec and provincial governments must be redefined.
In other words, we must transfer the additional taxing powers to the provincial governments and to the Quebec government so that they can fulfill their primary responsibility regarding health, front line services to citizens, education and income support for society's poorest.
It is easy to transfer tax points or, for example, to transfer GST revenues, as was pointed out by the Séguin commission. Here again, the government is not even open to discussing the issue. Imagine what it will be like when it comes to finding solutions.
But we are expecting the Prime Minister on October 26. So are the premiers of Quebec and the provinces. The federal government cannot accumulate surpluses unduly while the provinces have glaring needs in health, education and income support, which are all fundamental responsibilities enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.
There is something indecent about the fact that they hid these surpluses from us, year after year. Once again, the Conference Board is talking about a federal government surplus of $164 billion over the next 10 years, while the deficit for Quebec and the other provinces will be over $60 billion. Something is not working properly; the federal government has too much money for its responsibilities and there is not enough money for the basic responsibilities for services to the people, such as health and education.
This conference must be guided by four principles that are not found in the Speech from the Throne. These principles are: provincial autonomy with regard to constitutional responsibility; stability; predictable management of the funds they have on hand; and long-lasting arrangements. It must not happen that every two years someone has to come back and grovel on behalf of those who require services. The money does not belong to the federal government; it belongs to the citizens whose highest priority—and this was seen everywhere in the election polls—is to have that money invested in health, education and income support.
Unless it accomplishes this, we will consider the conference a failure.
Second, there is agriculture, the most important sector in my riding. It is an important economic motor for all rural regions in Quebec. The same is true in the rest of Canada. My honourable friend from the west was saying so just now.
For a number of years, the federal government has neglected farmers, so much so that if we compare the incomes of farm families now to those of the past 30 years, these are the lowest incomes for 30 years. The men and women who farm have been victims of an incredible depression, particularly in the last three years. Between mad cow disease and American subsidies, it has been incredible. Those subsidies represent at least 20 times what the federal government can provide to the producers of large-scale crops such as corn and wheat.
We cannot go on like this. Competition is not based on the quality of the products; it is based on the ability of governments to intervene with outrageous subsidies that contravene all the trading rules of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization.
Five years ago the federal government cut the dairy subsidy by $6.03 a hectolitre. It provided $120 million to dairy farmers in Quebec. If the farmers still had this $120 million today, they could survive the mad cow crisis. But that is not what the federal government did.
As for the Quebec Artificial Breeding Centre, a vital part of the agricultural economy, it has been cornered a financially disastrous situation because of mad cow disease. Indeed, 75% of QABC products that used to go the United States no longer go there.
The federal government is abandoning the agricultural sector and cast doubt on the survival of the École de médecine vétérinaire de Saint-Hyacinthe, the only francophone school of veterinary medicine in North America. It is the only one that currently does not have full accreditation. The four others located elsewhere in Canada are fully accredited, but Saint-Hyacinthe is not. Why? Because the federal government did not do its job.
If that is what they call a government program then it is only normal that we reject it. However, it is abnormal for the government not to agree to work with us to improve its work program, to make this Parliament work.
The government has to understand that we are in a majority position, which is not easy to do. We are the majority, we have a majority predisposition and that can have a major impact. The Liberals still do not understand that they have a minority in this Parliament. It might be a good idea for them to cooperate rather than impose the Liberal party agenda, which was rejected by 62% of Canadians, a significant figure.